riverwest investments

Developers propose 4,000 new homes in next decade

June 27, 2006

Projects spur mitigation talks between businesses, Gustine school district

By Michael Mello

Santa Nella is known more as a refueling stop along Interstate 5 than a place to call home.

Five developers would like to change that and have proposed building 4,000 houses during the next decade in the Merced County town of 2,000.

That has prompted the Gustine Unified School District to try forging an agreement with those developers to secure fees for two new elementary schools, a middle school and a high school to accommodate the growth. The only school in Santa Nella, Romero Elementary, would expand.

A total of $111 million would be needed to pay for the schools and equipment, said Bob Asmus, district facilities director. The schools would go up along with the houses as needed over the next 12 years, Asmus said.

Because the negations are still in progress, district officials won’t discuss details. However, meetings last week went well, district board President Stephen Moitozo said.

“I think we’re getting real close,” he said. “We went back and forth with some numbers and language.”

Once things are finalized, Moitozo said, he wants to get signatures on paper as soon as possible. He hopes that can be done during a special meeting on June 28, when the board will discuss the coming year’s budget. If a tentative agreement comes after that, Moitozo said he won’t hesitate to call an emergency meeting so the board could consider the contracts.

“We’re hopeful that this will get squared away this month,” Moitozo said.

Representatives of developers River West Investments, Heritage Homes and Arnaudo Brothers—who plan to build the majority of the houses—could not be reached for comment.

One reason for the contracts, Asmus said, was to shield taxpayers in Gustine from having to pay for schools in Santa Nella. Later this year, the district will approach residents, hat in hand, with a special election to consider $10 million in bonds to improve and expand Gustine High School.

The Merced County Planning Commission has approved tentative maps for close to 3,000 of the proposed houses, said Bill Nicholson, assistant development services director for the county.

Plans call for about 6,500 houses when Santa Nella is fully built out. That could take up to 15 years and would boost the town’s population to nearly 19,000, Nicholson said.

Modesto Bee staff writer Michael Mello can be reached at 578-2391 or .